Brandon McCarthy vs. Keith Law—Live On Twitter

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An entertaining and extended Twitter fight went into the early morning hours (EST) between Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy and ESPN writer Keith Law after Law sent out a tweet decrying the concept of Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera being “locked in” during his three homer night against the Rangers. Cabrera also singled and walked. The Rangers won the game 11-8.

This isn’t about the debate of whether, as Law said, being locked in is a “myth.” Law’s argument centers around there not being any evidence to prove that being “locked in” exists. I don’t agree with the premise. Simply because there’s no study to prove or disprove “its” existence doesn’t mean the “it” doesn’t exist. It’s weak and pompous to suggest that there’s a conclusion one way or the other because there’s no study to footnote. Has anyone even tried to examine the brain-body link when a player is in a “zone” or “locked in” to see if there’s a difference between a hot streak and a slump? Pitchers’ mechanics and hitters’ swings are dissected through attachments of body to computer to spot flaws and correct them, so what about the brain-body link and the possibility of being “locked in”? If it hasn’t been studied, how do you prove it doesn’t exist? And how do you declare it’s a myth?

I feel some semblance of sympathy for Law here. As obnoxious, phony and as much of a created entity as he is, he tweeted one thing and found himself under siege not just by people who dislike him, but by many who actually are fans of his and a big league player who is sabermetrically inclined and cerebral basically telling him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It was one tweet that ended with a marathon that I’m sure Law wanted no part of after the first fifteen minutes, but couldn’t find a way to extricate himself from the situation while maintaining his unfounded reputation as an “expert.” It went on for hours and will undoubtedly continue throughout the day. Or the week. Or the month. Or the year. That’s how Twitter is.

I believe in the “locked in” idea and it’s not based on some throwaway line. Anyone who’s ever played a sport—or done anything at all on a regular basis—knows that there are times that it just feels “right” and there are instances when it’s not necessary to think about the things that a pitcher or hitter has to think about, sometimes to his detriment. When a hitter or pitcher has his mind on mechanics—where the hands are, where the feet are, where the landing spot is—and then has to deal with the pitches coming at him or the hitters standing at the plate, it makes it exponentially harder to focus on the one moment they need to be focusing on for sustained success. There are times when it all comes together and there’s no need to think about those mechanical necessities because all is in symmetry and it’s automatic.

The “you never played” argument is treated as if it’s irrelevant by those who never played because they can’t combat the assertion. It’s not easy to make it to the Major Leagues whether it’s someone who understands stats like McCarthy or someone for whom stats are an inconvenience like Jeff Francoeur. It is, however, remarkably easy in today’s game to make it to a Major League front office or into the media as an “expert.”

Law’s entire career has been based on an if this/then that premise. He was a writer on statistics and when the Blue Jays hired J.P. Ricciardi out of the Athletics front office as the Moneyball theory was first starting to be known and implemented, he hired Law. Law worked for the Blue Jays, left to take a job at ESPN and suddenly morphed through some inexplicable osmosis from the arrogant and condescending stat guy who Michael Lewis described in Moneyball (and after the Moneyball movie came out and Law panned it, in an entertaining slap fight between the two) into an arrogant and condescending stat and all-knowing scouting guy. In reality, there’s no scouting guy in there. He’s regurgitating stuff he heard. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no foundation for his status as the ultimate insider and someone who knows both scouting and stats.

Law didn’t pay his dues as a writer meeting deadlines, covering games and trying to get a usable quote from Barry Bonds; he didn’t play; he didn’t work his way up in the front office from getting coffee for people as an intern to a low-level staffer and eventually a baseball executive. I don’t agree with much of what Law’s fellow ESPN “Insider” Jim Bowden says, but at least Bowden was a scout and a GM who made the primordial climb working for George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott. Law just sort of showed up and was anointed as the all-seeing, all-knowing totem of the stat people.

And there’s the fundamental issue with him.

He’s a creation. The ridiculous mock MLB Drafts, smug style and wallowing in objective data as well as his only recently discovered interest in in-the-trenches scouting is similar to the marketing of a boy band. There had to be something there to start with, of course. Law’s obviously intelligent as he constantly tries to show with his “look how smart I am” tweets in Latin, but that doesn’t translate into industry-wide respect that they’re trying to desperately to cultivate. With a boy band, it’s a look and willingness to do what they’re taught, sing the songs they’re given and be happy that they’re making money and have girls screaming their names on a nightly basis. With Law, it’s his circular status as a guy who’s worked in an MLB front office as if that denotes credibility on all things baseball. Those who hate GMs and former GMs who shun many of the new and beloved stats wouldn’t listen to Omar Minaya, Bill Bavasi or Ruben Amaro Jr. if they were given the forum that Law has, so why does Law automatically receive undeserved respect?

Just like veteran baseball front office people and players have to deal with unwanted suggestions and the presence of people they don’t think know anything about how the actual game of baseball is played, so too do the sportswriters—many of whom worked their way up as beat reporters for box lacrosse until they’re in a coveted baseball columnist position—have to look at people like Law and wonder: “Why’s he here?” “Why does anyone listen to him?”

What must make it worse for the real reporters at ESPN like Buster Olney and Jayson Stark is that for the good of ESPN webhits and advertising rates, they have to promote Law’s writing due to organizational needs and orders from above. According to speculation, Law and Olney aren’t exactly buddies. It must burn Olney to have to lead his followers to Law’s mock drafts that Olney is experienced enough as a baseball writer to know are ridiculous.

Because it was McCarthy, a player who understands and utilizes the same stats that Law propounds in practice as a Major League baseball player and not a “me throw ball, me swing bat” player who isn’t aware of the war going on in Syria let alone WAR as a stat, Law couldn’t use the argument of an eyeroll and hand wave with backup from his minions. That, more than the relatively meaningless debate, is probably what stings most of all.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Jason Vargas

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Name: Jason Vargas—Seattle Mariners

Tale of the tape: Left-handed pitcher; 29-years-old; 6’0”, 215 lbs.

Contract status: $4.85 million in 2012; arbitration eligible for 2013; free agent after 2013.

Would the Mariners trade him and what would the trading team be getting?

They would trade him. They don’t have to trade him and might be better served to gauge the market and decide whether he’d be more valuable to trade this winter.

Vargas is a decent, mid-to-back-rotation lefty who gives up a lot of home runs (22 so far this season), eats some innings, and needs a big ballpark and good defense behind him to be successful. He has a mediocre fastball, an array of off-speed pitches and good control. Vargas is deceptive and throws across his body with the ball difficult to pick up out of his hand—he’s sneaky fast.

Jayson Stark wrote that the Braves are looking for an “impact” starting pitcher and have scouted Vargas extensively.

If the Braves are thinking of Vargas as an impact starter, then their criteria for that adjective is misplaced. An impact starter is someone that can start one of the first two games of a playoff series. With this current Braves club with their injuries, Vargas probably would start a game 3 behind Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson, but that’s more of a reflection on the Braves than it is on Vargas.

He’s not an impact starter; he’s someone who’s obtainable for a reasonable price and can be useful.

The Mariners have wrung about as much as they possibly can from him on the field and with the young pitching they have on the way to the big leagues, they’re not going to need to pay the Vargas the $6 million+ he’ll make in arbitration next season, nor are they going to overpay to keep him as a free agent after next season. He’s worth more in a trade than he is to keep whether they do it now or after the season.

What would they want for him?

The Mariners need hitting. Presumably they’d want a shortstop and an outfielder. The shortstop needs to have a good glove and an offensive attribute—speed, some pop, a good eye. The outfielder either has to be able to run and catch the ball or is a pure slugger for a corner spot or DH. They won’t get can’t miss prospects, but they’ll be able to get a couple of good prospects who are currently in Double A.

Which teams would pursue him?

Every contending team can use pitching. The Yankees are waiting out CC Sabathia’s and Andy Pettitte’s injuries with Freddy Garcia and their minor leaguers. I wouldn’t put Vargas in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.

In fact, any bandbox is a bad idea and that eliminates the Orioles and Camden Yards.

The Blue Jays, Tigers, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals and Pirates have good venues for him to pitch and the prospects to trade.

What will happen.

I get the feeling the Mariners aren’t going to trade Vargas at the deadline and they’ll wait until after the season when they might have a new GM replacing Jack Zduriencik to make the move.

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The Shady Non-Story of Keith Law and the Astros

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How is it possible when any tiny little bit of baseball news on and off the field is reported by multiple outlets that—during a relatively slow time—no one has any details of the job Keith Law was supposedly offered by the Houston Astros?

What you’re telling me is that Jon Heyman, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick and Jayson Stark (both of whom work for ESPN with Law) don’t have any details on this bit of “news”? On a baseball news day in which MLB Trade Rumors was posting stories entitled “Phillies Release John Bowker”; “Cardinals Shopping for Right-Handed Reliever”; “Phillies Interested in Jeremy Accardo”; and “Mets Re-Sign Miguel Batista”, the Law-Astros story received no attention and no digging apart from what Law himself said on Twitter?

Really?

What would be said if Sergio Mitre came out and said that he’d chosen to leave the Yankees rather than be the number two starter behind CC Sabathia?

Or if Grady Little said he’d chosen not to return to manage the Red Sox to replace Terry Francona?

They’d be ridiculed.

But because of his status as a former assistant in the Blue Jays front office who has carved out a snarky niche for himself as something other than a stat guy and is now a TV analyst and scout, his pronouncements are given credibility.

Do they warrant credibility?

It’s circular.

Highly educated at Harvard and other fine institutions of higher learning>>writer for Baseball Prospectus>>former Blue Jays assistant>>ESPN analyst/scouting and draft guru>>interviewing with the Astros.

But is it real?

Should we believe him?

It’s hard to tell.

Weeks ago, it was reported that Law interviewed for several front office positions with the new Astros braintrust led by Jeff Luhnow.

Luhnow proceeded to hire Sig Mejdal as his “Director of Decision Sciences” (whatever that is); and Stephanie Wilka as his Coordinator of Amateur Scouting.

But no Law.

Yesterday Law said the following at about noon Eastern time on his Twitter feed:

I have chosen to stay with ESPN. It was a difficult decision, and I’m very grateful to the Astros for the opportunity.

The opportunity for what is unclear.

Did they offer him a job or not?

The tweet was so opaque and laden with ambiguous phrasing and plausible deniability that it looks like a political cover story to protect Law’s reputation as the ultimate baseball insider; someone who knows his way around front offices, crunches the numbers and travels around doing “scouting”. He has a breadth of experience and knowledge, thereby according him as an “expert” in the media.

But is he?

Where is this story and why doesn’t anyone with inside informers and leaks have the details of the job that Law implies—doesn’t say, but implies—the Astros offered?

The only reporting I can find online ends up back with Law’s pronouncement. Here on Hardball Talk, Aaron Gleeman reports what Law said on Twitter.

No one knows what job he was offered?

Circular.

And back to Law.

Law has me blocked on Twitter. Why? Probably because I call him an armchair expert who regurgitates scouting terminology. I don’t call people names or curse at them; his decision to block me is indicative of a skin far too thin to say the things he does in the tone he says them.

Blocking me on Twitter was, retrospectively, a bad idea. Truth be told, I don’t remember if I ever even followed him (I don’t think I did), so blocking me informs the world at large that he knows who I am. That’s unless he scours Twitter during his off hours and blocks random people. With (at the time of this writing) 364,584 followers, that’s highly unlikely.

Law strikes me as someone who’s very conscious of how he’s perceived and is desperately seeking to maintain and bolster his reputation; but when one is caught in prevarications or twisted facts as he was when he had his somewhat embarrassing slap fight with Michael Lewis over Law’s negative review of the film Moneyball and then backtracks like a trapped waterbug, his agenda reveals itself.

Later, in what was clearly an effort to say, “look, the Astros aren’t done hiring after Mejdal and Wilka”, Law tweeted:

Astros have received permission to interview Cardinals regional cross-checker Mike Elias for a Special Assistant role in scouting

Someone asked if that was the same job Law was offered and he replied:

no, I don’t think it’s the same job.

Here’s what I suspect: the Astros interviewed Law as a courtesy without any intention of hiring him; the story of said interview was leaked (possibly by Law himself); this was either an attempt on the part of Law to extract a better deal from ESPN or to shoehorn his way into a front office job with a GM in Luhnow who believes what Law believes in building an organization; the Astros may or may not have offered him a position, but that position was such that it was either designed for him to turn down because it was so low on the totem pole or didn’t happen at all and they’re letting him kindasorta say they did in a face-saving gesture; and now he’s made a great show of “choosing to stay at ESPN” when he really didn’t have much of an alternative to leave from the beginning.

How is a story that begins and ends with one source—the subject of said story—to be taken at face value?

It can’t.

If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

But through the principles of deduction, what we’ve learned so far and from whom we’ve learned it, I don’t think I am.

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The Phillies And Ryan Madson—Leaks And Lies And Baseball

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Much like the Keith Law-Michael Lewis dustup over Law’s negative review of Moneyball (which was somewhat embarrassing for both parties, but was absolutely and completely hysterical), someone in the Phillies-Ryan Madson contract negotiations and reporting is lying.

First, Jon Heyman and Jim Duquette said on Twitter that the Phillies and Ryan Madson had agreed to a 4-year, $44 million contract with a $13 million.

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports said the same thing.

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com said the Madson camp told him there was no agreement yet and talks were ongoing.

It sounded done. And stupid.

But wait!! All contracts have to go to ownership for approval. But given the series of maniacally overpriced contracts that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has given to players like Ryan Howard along with spending big on Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and with Jimmy Rollins a free agent, team president David Montgomery didn’t sign off on what Amaro wanted to do.

Now the Madson agreement might be on the verge of collapse with Jonathan Papelbon a possibility for the Phillies.

If you believe the rumors (and I don’t) Madson could be a target for the Nationals, Rangers or Red Sox.

Madson’s been a closer for one year and that wasn’t even full-time; paying him on a level with a proven short reliever like Papelbon, Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez (remember him?) is idiotic.

Jayson Stark said on Twitter that Amaro called the rumors unequivocally false and that there was no agreement.

Lots of stories.

Is someone lying? Or is what most normal people would consider lying in real life—intellectually and otherwise— “just baseball” as Mike Marshall said in Ball Four?

The following is what I suspect based on my own analysis of baseball and human nature.

Ready?

Here we go:

Amaro and Boras had the parameters in place for a deal with the reported dollar figures; Boras leaked it to friendly reporters in an act of quid pro quo—they exchange information for mutual benefit; the reporters reported it and people believed it was true because it was true; all that remained was for Amaro to get approval from Montgomery—an approval that had been fait accompli in prior negotiations; but the public reaction to the contract for Madson was widespread and negative; Montgomery hesitated, understanding the ramifications of being the first team to sign a closer (who is only a semi-closer for part of a season) and spending that amount of money when the Phillies have upcoming layouts to Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence; he nixed the it and wondered whether that same money or slightly more could get a better and more proven reliever in Papelbon; this left Amaro in a bad position because if the deal was done and the club president turned it down, Amaro looks impotent and powerless in the organization and, worse, to his peers, media and public; and with the criticism levied as the details initially leaked, the Phillies are going to look even dumber if they still give it to him and he pitches poorly; in a face-saving maneuver, Amaro played semantics and told Stark that there was no deal—which is technically true because he needed Montgomery’s okay; and Montgomery didn’t okay it.

At this point, I highly doubt that Madson will receive that same $44 million from the Phillies and I’m sure that Boras is really, really angry.

I think Papelbon is going to wind up with the Phillies and they’ll be better because of it.

I’m not getting this from anywhere other than my own understanding of people and baseball.

You’re better off listening to me because there’s no agenda; nor is there a trade-off in play.

You know what you’re getting here, for better or worse.

Do you know with the “insiders”?

I think we both know the answer to that question.

If you’re smart, you do know what you’re getting from those with a vested interest in the proceedings and that you shouldn’t believe it because it may be twisted or false—presented as such for their own purposes.

And you’re their target.

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Logic And Carlos Zambrano

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No, the two things aren’t connected directly.

Nor can they be.

While I understand the attempts to find a landing spot for Carlos Zambrano so: A) the Cubs can get rid of him and his contract; and B) they’d get something back rather than simply paying him to leave, logic says that it’s pointless to give up anything short of clearing multiple millions in exchange for Zambrano—something that’s not going to happen.

Both Jayson Stark and Tim Dierkes put forth scenarios toward this end.

On paper, the suggestions like Carlos Lee, Barry Zito, A.J. Burnett, Adam Dunn, all make some form of sense, but if I was the trading team, I’d look at Zambrano and say, “why am I giving up anything for this guy when the Cubs are simply gonna release him and I can try him for nothing if I think he can help?”

I was of the opinion that Zambrano might be straightened out with a solid pitching coach and strong-handed manager for a more stable, successful organization than the Cubs. But I no longer feel that way. Regardless of his talent, Zambrano is a person who’s destined to be “what might have been” because he cannot control himself.

This has happened under a variety of managers—Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade; with Cubs teams that have been contenders and cellar-dwellers; in disputes with umpires, teammates, coaches and opponents.

He’s a habitual offender.

The Cubs know this. The biggest obstacle in finding a taker for him is that everyone else knows it too, making a trade highly, highly unlikely no matter who’d be coming back.

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Mets Can’t Get Too Clever With Reyes

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This is not turning into an “all Jose Reyes, all the time” deal, but there’s much to talk about with the Mets shortstop currently back in his part-time office, the disabled list.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark discusses Reyes’s fluid situation of free agency with the latest injury factored into the equation.

Here are the main quotes:

The buzz in the business is that the Mets were prepared to offer him $100 million over five years. Maybe that would have gotten it done, hamstring pops or no hamstring pops.

But now you could see those guaranteed years shrinking — to four years, maybe even to three, with options that would vest a fifth year if he can just stay off the DL.

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But there’s another side to this argument. For one thing, the Mets can’t drop the years and dollars too low — because it would draw other clubs into the auction.

Stark brings up the paucity of big money teams that will pursue Reyes and the overall market in his posting.

I’m not thinking about Adrian Beltre or Albert Pujols or any of the clubs Stark mentions as possibly being in or out on Reyes.

I’m thinking back to Vladimir Guerrero and the Mets in 2003.

At age 28, Guerrero was a free agent with an injury that was worrisome—more worrisome in fact than Reyes’s hamstring because it was Guerrero’s back.

The Mets were interested in Guerrero and amid rumors that there was no market for him they tried to sign him to a short-term contract at a relatively cheap price with incentives ($30 million guaranteed over 3-years).

The Yankees were also supposedly considering Guerrero (and GM Brian Cashman was said to prefer Guerrero), but owner George Steinbrenner signed Gary Sheffield.

Guerrero was floating free into January of 2004—unprecedented for a player of his talents at that age, back injury or not.

The rumors were rampant that the Mets were about to net the slugger…until the Angels struck—as is their wont—like lightning. Without warning, they signed Guerrero to a 5-year, $70 million deal and the Mets were sitting on their hands, wondering what happened.

The New York Times reported that there was a Players Association investigation into who leaked Guerrero’s medical records to the Mets—medical records that turned out to be wrong in the severity or Guerrero’s back woes.

Guerrero wound up bolstering his Hall of Fame credentials with the Angels; was a perennial MVP candidate and All-Star; and a leader in the clubhouse and on the field.

Were the Mets afraid of Guerrero’s medical prognosis? Were they being cheap? Were they hesitant when they should’ve been aggressive?

All of the above?

Considering the way the Mets were being run in those days and their “solution” to missing out on Guerrero was to sign Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer, it’s probably that they were being cheap. And being the Mets.

Luckily Mel Hall wasn’t around.

The only reasonable answer is that the Mets got greedy and thought they were the only team in on Guerrero.

They missed out on him because of it.

Truth be told, Guerrero doesn’t like speaking to the press in English and would’ve wanted no part of living and playing in New York; he had little interest in being the front-and-center leader of a team that wasn’t particularly good and was better off in a stable atmosphere like that with the Angels.

How does this relate to Reyes?

If the Mets think that no one is going to jump in and offer Reyes a lot of money despite the hamstring problems, them they’re putting themselves in a Guerrero-like circumstance where they’ll lose him for the wrong reasons.

If the club comes to the conclusion that Reyes is only worth X amount of dollars and Y number of years, sticks to it and he leaves, so be it; if they lose him because they were lowballing him, the Sandy Alderson regime will be making the same mistake the Jim Duquette regime did—and that’s not what the Wilpons (and MLB itself) had in mind when the Mets hired Alderson.

It would be a mistake.

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